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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just announced the winners of its 2008 International Press Freedom Awards: Bilal Hussein of Iraq, Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad of Afghanistan, Andrew Mwenda of Uganda and Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez of Cuba have all "risked imprisonment, harassment, and, above all, their lives to report the news and stand up for press freedom in their countries."

Just this April, Hussein, a photographer for The Associated Press, was released after being held for two years without charge by the U.S. military for his alleged links to Iraqi insurgents. Hussein, a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer from Iraq, had always maintained his innocence and said he was only doing his job as a journalist working in a war zone.

Danish Karokhel is director and Farida Nekzad is managing editor and deputy director of Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan's leading independent news agency. Karokhel and Nekzad are also media rights activists committed to the advancement of press freedom after the fall of the Taliban.

Andrew Mwenda is one of Uganda's most outspoken and best recognised journalists. He is the founder and managing editor of "The Independent", a hard-hitting news magazine critical of the government. In April, after Mwenda published two stories criticising the Ugandan Army and its role in northern Uganda's civil war, police raided his office and detained him along with two other reporters. He has faced persecution from the government and police throughout his journalism career.

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez was part of Cuba's flourishing independent press movement when he was arrested and jailed along with 28 other journalists in Fidel Castro's crackdown on political dissidents in March 2003, the "Black Spring". He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." Maseda Gutiérrez often wrote about Cuba's social problems, including a series on the brutality and human right violations in Cuban prisons published shortly before his arrest. At age 65, Maseda Gutiérrez is the oldest of 22 journalists still behind bars in Cuba today.

CPJ will also honour Beatrice Mtetwa, Zimbabwe's leading human rights and media lawyer and a tireless defender of press freedom, with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award given for lifetime achievement. Mtetwa has won acquittals for dozens of journalists arrested under Zimbabwe's repressive media laws, including Barry Bearak, the "New York Times" correspondent who faced criminal charges of practising journalism without a licence in the aftermath of this year's flawed elections. Mtetwa, a 2005 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, is the first person to be honoured with both awards.

The awards will be presented in New York City on 25 November. For more details of the winners, see:

(17 September 2008)

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